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Social Media Privacy and the Job Search

“We don’t have a choice on whether we do social media, the question is how well we do it.” -Eric Qualman

Can you think of one person you are close with that doesn’t use some form of social media? The answer is probably no, or very rarely. Be it Facebook, Twitter or even Instagram, millions of users are frequenting these sites daily and updating their profiles. With many users’ digital footprints dating back several years, social media accounts have become landmines of personal information that are available to anyone who might want to search about you. During the job search and application process it’s important to understand that there is no way you will escape the inevitable cyber-vetting process by employers and recruiters. Instead of immediately putting your accounts on lock down, however, understanding your social media privacy options can be to your advantage during the initial job application screening process. Job seekers can use the different social media privacy settings that are available on various social media sites, to cater towards their own personal brand. By keeping in mind these four aspects of social media privacy, you will be able to take an upper hand in creating a positive impression on future employers or recruiters during the application process.

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1. Know Your Audience

One of the biggest problems people face when using social media sites is that the audience on the other side of the screen is virtually anonymous – it could be anyone. With the average social media user having accounts on different platforms, many users can face the problem of understanding who they should be sharing information with. This is compounded by the fact that so many social platforms are often used in such different ways, such as Twitter with its short and random tweets, to LinkedIn where you are developing your professional self.

As a job seeker it’s important to understand how to tweak account privacy settings, deciding what personal information is visible, and which audience you’re comfortable with seeing certain types of posts. With sites like Facebook, people often share personal photos and details about their day-to-day home life.  For Facebook, a job seeker would be better off having a more secured and private account, where the only posts and media visible to the public are types that might demonstrate your professionalism. On Facebook, when in doubt, click that little “padlock” icon on the top right-hand side of the screen, and see what posts you’re allowing certain audiences to see.

On certain other platforms, such as LinkedIn, you’re not quite able to have the same degree of control in crafting that visibility, so another option is simply not posting certain things, or deleting certain posts.  As a job seeker you should determine how you want to use your social media accounts, whether you just want to use your LinkedIn profile or use all platforms, to portray your personal brand.  Once you’ve decided, adjust your privacy settings accordingly, and breathe a sigh of relief that you are putting your best digital “foot” forward!

2. Don’t Connect With Everyone

As a social media user and job searcher, I’m guessing you’ve heard about the dangers of social media plenty of times before.  We often see hilarious examples of social media fails, though it’s never fun being the subject of some of those fails!  One of the big issues with social media privacy, is accepting connection requests is often very quick and easy.  Not paying close attention when accepting people’s requests could cause you to connect with people you may not know, opening up your social media privacy to an entirely new audience.

While most social media users know that the risk is there, the tendency to deny strangers’ friend requests is still not 100%. For job seekers, accepting friend requests from strangers could not only put you at a higher risk for some sort of privacy invasion, but it can also convey a negative message to future employers. On certain social media sites, LinkedIn in particular, it is generally frowned upon to connect with those that are not actually in your personal network.

On Facebook, however, people often accept friend requests from people they don’t know.  Sometimes it’s just because of a catchy profile picture, or maybe a passing association with a group.  The one thing to remember here is, hiring managers and recruiters often send connection requests to candidates they’re vetting, so they can skirt by some of those privacy settings and learn a bit more about you.  Just remember not to feel like you have to connect with everyone.  It won’t offend hiring managers, and best case it will protect your private life.

3. Don’t Contradict Your Resume

As a job seeker, deciding what you post and share on your different accounts can either reduce or increase the online presence you’ve created through the use of different privacy settings. Whether it’s your most recent profile picture, a link to a news article you shared, or even companies you liked, all of your social media history gives information to others about who you are, the things you do, and how professional your behavior might be.

In an article posted by Forbes, 69% of employers have, at one time or another, rejected a prospective hire based off of something they saw on their social media profile. This staggering percentage makes it vital for job seekers to think twice before they post. One of the most important things that job seekers should keep in mind is if the things they are posting on their social media accounts contradict information they have already given employers, that could be a deal killer for a job.

In the same Forbes article, “lying about their qualifications” based off of social media posts was listed as the main reason why employers passed on applicants. With the ability to share so much information at the tap of a single finger, self monitoring and thoughtfulness when posting will prove to be valuable to you in the job hunt.  When in doubt, go through your post history and hide or delete posts that might not be beneficial to your professional appearance.

4. See yourself through the eyes of an employer

With cyber-vetting being a common practice among hiring personnel and recruiters, it is vital for you as a job seeker to grasp the overall image that you are giving off via social media. The best tactic to make sure that you are creating the best possible impression with your social media accounts, is to do exactly what a future employer may do – Google yourself!  Try searching a few different ways.  Search your phone number, your email, your name, etc.  Try using exact match search by surrounding your search in quotes (Ex. – “”).  Sometimes you’ll find different results by searching different ways.  Many of these things will be info that hiring managers will be searching for.

Do the search results seem to mesh with the personal brand you are trying to achieve? Is there information that is still accessible that you may not want the eyes of a future employer to see? These links are an extension of yourself, and just like during an in person interview, you want it to be the best example of your professional self. It’s likely that your search results will pull up many of your social profiles on various platforms, which all have different audiences and purposes, but you want your profiles to portray a consistent image.

Depending on what you find in search results, you might have several options to improve the appearance of those results.  For some pages on certain types of sites, you might be able to edit posts and pages to refine the content that’s showing up in the search results.  For other pages, you might be able to delete theme entirely. Worst case, you might need to do a bit of outreach to a webmaster to edit or delete things you can’t do yourself.

Through the careful tweaking of your privacy settings and the conscious decision about what to post, you can have all of your social media accounts portray a coherent image that will only boost your value in a future employer’s eyes, rather than detract from it.  Just remember from time to time, to tweak your privacy settings and Google your name and some of your personal information to see the impression the search results might give an employer.  When it gets right down to it, this is just another aspect of refining one’s “resume”.

About the Author Kelli Branham

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